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Musa A Keilani: EU needs to show its power
December 31, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

It is an understatement that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is hopping mad at some of his European counterparts because of their objective observations about Israel’s practices and policies against not only the Palestinians living under its occupation but also its own Arab citizens.

Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer from Ukraine, never hit it right with European governments (or with the US for that matter) because of his aggressive, non-diplomatic way of dealing with others. He also believes in “either you are with me or against” and leaves no room for common ground.

Now it seems he could punch his counterparts from Britain, France, Germany and Portugal at the first given opportunity. Well, that is an issue for the Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deal with, although one often gets the feeling that the prime minister enjoys unleashing Lieberman against critics of Israel.

The latest European Union (EU) action that has enraged Lieberman, and of course the Israeli government itself, is the preparation of a confidential 27-page brief outlining indicators suggesting that Arab Israelis “suffer from economic disparities, unequal access to land and housing, discriminatory draft legislation and a political climate in which discriminatory rhetoric and practice go unsanctioned.”

The report does criticise some Arab Israeli leaders for what it describes as their “disloyalty to Israel,” but the thrust of criticism is levelled at Israel.

Israeli foreign ministry officials have been quoted as expressing outrage at the report’s circulation in secrecy (it is no longer a secret anyway) and criticising those who drafted it for doing so “behind our backs.”

“We were not informed, consulted or approached about this document, which was allegedly written by EU diplomats,” a ministry spokesman has said.

Well, the Israeli reaction to the report takes second place when we review the contents of the documents. Britain’s Independent newspaper, which revealed the existence of the report, notes that the EU often criticises Israeli policies, especially regarding Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. However, according to the Independent, the European bloc is “unusual in tackling such a highly sensitive issue” as Israel’s treatment of its own Arab citizens.

The report indicates “that the erosion of Israel’s founding ethos — as a Jewish homeland but one committed to treating all citizens equally — will reinforce those who seek to ‘delegitimise’ Israel and damage its international standing,” reports the British newspaper.

The EU report calls on the international community to look at Israel’s treatment of its minorities “as a core issue, not second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

We do know how the Sephardis, originally referred to the descendants of the Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula before their expulsion in 1594 by the Spanish Inquisition but later came to describe Jewish Israelis of Oriental origin, while Ashkenazi European Jews dominate the Israeli establishment at the expense of those from other parts of the world. We are closely familiar with the discrimination that the Israeli establishment practises against Arab Israelis in terms of their political rights and proportional representation in the Knesset and addressing their health and educational needs and social services.

Lieberman, known for what could be described as a born hatred for Arabs, is angry not because of the obvious shortcomings and discrimination in the Israeli government’s treatment of Arab Israelis, but because the Europeans helped expose them.

Lieberman was already enraged that Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, as representatives of the European bloc, joined a strong UN Security Council denunciation of Israel’s policy of expanding settlements in the occupied territories. They also condemned the rising violence against Palestinians by Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.

That was enough to trigger off Lieberman. He told a recent meeting of some 100 top Israeli diplomats that Israel did not need to apologise to European nations which condemned its West Bank construction policy and rightist violence.

He claimed that “Israeli democracy has nothing to be ashamed of — even in comparison with the glorious British democracy...”

According to Lieberman, “the countries which issued the condemnation should understand that (settlement) construction ... is not an obstacle to peace; it is the Palestinians who are hurting the chances for peace by refusing to negotiate.”

In any event, the European Union is showing in public an increased awareness of the realities on the ground in Palestine. The bloc does have a substantial clout in the form of commercial relations with Israel.

With Israeli leaders like Lieberman publicly berating, ridiculing and even insulting EU member countries, the atmosphere is conducive for an intensified Arab effort to build a European consensus for pressure on Israel to accept the inevitability of recognising the rights of the Palestinians as the basis for a peace agreement to settle the Palestinian problem.

Surely, it cannot be done overnight, but any kind of pressure on Israel is always welcome. This was the keynote theme of recent Jordanian contacts with Israeli decision-makers.

The author a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman.

 

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